Aim We tested the hypothesis that anthropogenic fires favour the successful establishment of alien annual species to the detriment of natives in the Chilean coastal matorral.
Location Valparaíso Region, central Chile.
Methods We sampled seed rain, seedbank emergence and establishment of species in four paired burned and unburned areas and compared (using GLMM) fire resistance and propagule arrival of alien and native species. To assess the relative importance of seed dispersal and seedbank survival in explaining plant establishment after fire, we compared seed rain and seedbank structure with post-fire vegetation using ordination analyses.
Results Fire did not change the proportion of alien species in the coastal matorral. However, fire increased the number of annual species (natives and aliens) of which 87% were aliens. Fire reduced the alien seedbank and not the native seedbank, but alien species remained dominant in burned soil samples (66% of the total species richness). Seed rain was higher for alien annuals than for native annuals or perennials, thus contributing to their establishment after fire. Nevertheless, seed rain was less important than seedbank survival in explaining plant establishment in burned areas.
Main conclusions Anthropogenic fires favoured alien and native annuals. Thus, fire did not increase the alien/native ratio but increased the richness of alien species. The successful establishment of alien annuals was attributable to their ability to maintain rich seedbanks in burned areas and to the greater propagule arrival compared to native species. The native seedbank also survived fire, indicating that the herbaceous community has become highly resilient after centuries of human disturbances. Our results demonstrate that fire is a relevant factor for the maintenance of alien-dominated grasslands in the matorral and highlight the importance of considering the interactive effect of seed rain and seedbank survival to understand plant invasion patterns in fire-prone ecosystems.